The Food Standards Agency is to consider the latest draft report on BSE controls at an open public meeting of stakeholders on Thursday in London.

The current draft report is to recommend new controls on the possible use of animal blood in animal feed, and recommends a complete ban on intra-species recycling. It also calls for EU action on possible cross-contamination of animal feed in countries with a known risk of BSE, and for a tightening up of the UK cattle tracing system.

Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the FSA, said: "The evidence is that the current UK controls, which are based on the precautionary approach, are working. But, because of so much uncertainty, the review suggests that current controls be retained and in some areas tightened.

"The review is still subject to further consultation and discussion by the FSA Board. Even after the review is concluded, the Food Standards Agency will continue to reassess the situation to ensure the public is afforded the highest levels of protection."

MAIN POINTS

The review recommends a ban on the recycling of animal blood, gelatin and tallow in animal feed. Although it is unclear how much animal blood, if any, is used in animal feed the FSA is proposing a precautionary approach that supports the principle of banning intra-species recycling (cannibalism).

The review recommends rejecting requests from industry that pig meat and bone meals be allowed to be fed to poultry, and recommends a complete ban on intra-species recycling.

The report says that intra-species recycling could theoretically amplify a new TSE in a species, which would be difficult to detect, by which time it could have established a substantial pool of infectivity.

Blood from animals that are permitted for human consumption is allowed to be spread on land, subject to certain waste management controls. The review proposes that the FSA examine this issue once it has received advice from SEAC to assess any food safety implications.

The review points out that passport discrepancies have been found in about 10% of cattle inspected, including documentation and poor record keeping. The report recommends that the discrepancies be reduced to as close to zero as possible to ensure traceability of all cattle.

The report says that controls for sheep and goats were introduced on a precautionary basis as a risk reduction measure, since BSE has never been found in the UK national flock. However, the report says that if BSE were to be discovered in sheep the current controls would be inadequate.

Current research to look for BSE in sheep is costly and slow. Therefore, as a matter of great urgency, there is a need to develop and apply a rapid screening method so that large numbers of sheep can be tested to reduce the uncertainty of whether or not BSE occurs.

The proposed MAFF breeding programme using genetically resistant rams will take 10 years or more to complete. More immediate steps are needed - MAFF is developing these. The risk management option should consider what might be done whilst BSE in sheep remains a theoretical possibility and a contingency plan if BSE were to be discovered.

The report says that the problems of cross-contamination of animal feed formerly found in the UK are likely to be occurring elsewhere with similar results. It urges the EU Commission to take action especially in countries with a known risk of BSE.

New research is recommended on:

  • better diagnostic tests for rapid screening of BSE
  • pigs and poultry to clarify earlier findings that these species do not harbour TSE infectivity when orally exposed
  • the possibility that some cattle and sheep may be carriers of BSE without developing the disease
  • sheep intestines that are used for sausage casings to assess if the process ensures that lymphoid tissue and, with it, any risk of infectivity is removed
  • milk from cows that have been experimentally subjected to high and low doses of BSE to detect evidence of the prion protein (the infective agent in humans)*

* No milk is allowed into the food chain from cows with BSE and research has shown no infectivity in milk from BSE

Summary of the main BSE controls

Over thirty month rule

This prevents meat from any cattle over thirty months, whether home reared or imported, from entering the food chain. The only exceptions are those from low BSE-risk countries or from beef assurance scheme herds. Research has shown that BSE does not normally develop in cattle under thirty months.

Meat and bonemeal ban

This prevents the use of meat and bonemeal in any animal feed which is believed to be the main way in which BSE spread through the cattle population. Since August 1996, no case of mammalian meat and bonemeal has been discovered in ruminant feed.

Specified Risk Material (SRM)

It is compulsory for all specified risk material from cattle, sheep and goats to be removed from the animals before entering the food chain. Specified risk material contains the highest risk of infectivity. Independent monitoring has shown that a breach of rules occurred in less than 1% of the 4,000 audit checks carried out each year.

Incidence of BSE (1999)

  Northern Ireland Scotland England and Wales Republic of Ireland France
BSE cases per million cattle over 24 months old 7.5 40 472 26 2.8

The next meeting of stakeholders to consider the draft report is open to the media and the public. It will be held at the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch, London W1. Registration is at 10.15am, for an 11.00am start. Further information: The full report and further information is available from www.bsereview.org.uk

FSA Press office 0207 972 2373
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